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Challenge: Life Changes

Raising a Dog and Babies: On Loving and Letting Go

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I was a 21-year-old newlywed when we first got Pablo.

We found a woman online who had a five-year-old Bichon Frise for sale a few cities away. We packed up the day after Halloween and made the drive. When we’d gotten about halfway there, she called us.

“He looks terrible,” she explained. “His previous owner neglected him and he was so matted we had to shave him. I’m not sure he’s ready for adoption quite yet.”

We assured her we were ready to help, and already on our way.

We pulled up to her home around 9:00 at night. A huge greyhound bounced out to meet us and my husband and I looked at each other wondering what we’d just gotten ourselves into.

Sure enough, Pablo looked awful. His name was Barron back then and he was shaved so closely his little pink skin was showing. He was terribly timid and crouched behind the table when I went to go pet him. Still, we got all of his papers, paid the adoption fee, and drove home in the dark, a shaking little white dog in the backseat.

That was the first night of my love story with Pablo.

A few weeks in, I was driving to work in the cold morning. We’d been keeping Pablo in the garage during the day when we were at work, but I couldn’t do it. I took one look at him, shivering on the cold cement floor, and I called my husband. “Can we let him stay in the house just this once?” I pleaded. “It’s so cold!”

He agreed, so I let him in. He never went back into that garage again.

From that point forward, he was full-on Pampered Pooch. He had full reign of the house but thankfully, since he wasn’t a puppy, he knew not to make a mess. He’d simply perch on the back of the couch and look out the window, anxiously waiting for us to come home. He was also potty-trained by the time we got him, so that was a breeze as well. We just installed a door for dogs on our back porch door so he could go out and do his business, then he’d come back in and reclaim his position.

I’d sneak away from work every day on my lunch break and come home to walk him around the neighborhood. We’d do a quick circle, then go back and watch Rachel Ray together until I had to go back. We were inseparable and I was totally hooked. I even made us matching BFF shirts to wear!

Then, like it always does, life changed just a little. Pablo started developing cataracts and couldn’t walk as well. I’d sit with him on our linoleum kitchen floor and coax him to eat, gently guiding him to where his food was. He wouldn’t begin eating until I started singing “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma” which looks really crazy typed out, but it’s the truth. It became our little ritual, just like a million other things that we did together, like throw the ball down the hall for an hour or take selfies for Instagram.

He was waiting with my mother and father-in-law the morning we brought home our daughter. We were in a new house, the third home we’d taken Pablo to together. He was the best big brother I could have dreamed of, gentle and protective, rubbing his nose on her as if to say, “Welcome to the family, sweet girl.”

For a year or so, I managed both of them. I transitioned from full-time work to staying at home, so we’d spend all day together. I’d take them on walks down our country road, my daughter in the stroller, and him on the leash. We’d curl up on the couch and watch movies in the afternoon and in the mornings, he’d wake us both up with his cold-nosed kisses.

Yet, by the time my son came in 2016, everyone was getting a little older. My daughter was getting to be a toddler, and she became sort of rough with him. She’d put towels on his back as capes and get angry when they’d fall off. She’d hug him around the neck and squeeze just a little too tightly. Typical brother and sister stuff, but Pablo wasn’t loving it and it was making me anxious.

Pablo’s eyesight was also deteriorating, to the point that even surgery was deemed impossible. He became almost totally blind and between juggling a newborn, a two-year-old and an aging dog, I was at my wit’s end.

So my in-laws graciously stepped forward. They offered to keep Pablo for the weekend sometimes to let us rest. What started out as around one weekend per month transitioned into almost every weekend, and between all the back-and-forth, it just made sense to let them take over custody.

So for the past year, they’ve taken care of him. My mother-in-law is the one who takes him out to use the bathroom in the morning now, and she gets all the early evening snuggles. He goes to her immediately now and doesn’t give me a second look. It’s as if the five years we had together were erased, and it sort of breaks my heart if I think about it too long.

Yet, I’ve learned something throughout this process. He’s getting so much more attention and so many more walks than I could ever offer him at this point. He’s being spoiled rotten and loving every minute of it. My in-laws even pick him up to walk him up the stairs!

I had to let go so he could thrive. I had to step back and do what was best for him, even if it hurt my heart and broke up the family structure I’d known for so long. He’s better than fine now, and so are we.

Loving someone doesn’t mean you can’t let them go if something better awaits them somewhere else. That was the lesson I finally realized. Now, I’m more of the “fun aunt” to Pablo than his mama, and that’s totally fine.

It doesn’t erase the memories, and it doesn’t erase the affection. Everything we built together is still there, and our story will always exist. I’m just letting someone else write the next chapter, and that’s perfectly OK.

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